We tend to emphasize nutrition, and rightly so because it truly is the foundation of good health. However, one of the other great cornerstones of vibrant health and long life is exercise. Moderate, regular exercise will help keep your pet at a healthy weight and keep the joints flexible. It also provides mental stimulation, which is important for all pets, but especially those who spend most of their time indoors.
"The first step with any dog is to make sure you have the right collar or harness."
Exercise for Dogs
Big dogs make great hiking companions, especially here in rugged Colorado, where we've joked for years about the Labrador Retriever being the "state dog." Most medium-sized and large dogs seem able to handle all kinds of weather. But it's easy to let a smaller dog become a couch potato, going out only to answer the call of nature and hurrying right back in. They're not built for long treks, and they can disappear completely in a foot or two of snow!
The first step with any dog is to make sure you have the right collar or harness. Studies have shown that excessive pressure from a neck collar can damage a dog's trachea (windpipe), so a walking harness may be a better choice for dogs that pull. Small dogs do exceptionally well with supportive harnesses.
Of course, a good leash that's sturdy and easy to handle is always a good investment!
Don't forget to prepare for walking in the dark. The Ruff Wear Beacon Safety Light is designed to increase your dog's visibility to cars to increase the safety of night time walks.
If it's icy outside, or if your dog has furry paws that snow can pack into, consider canine footwear to protect those tender toes. Pawz Biodegradable Natural Dog Boots are an easy choice for everyday outings.
When you can't get out for a walk, there are many fun, interactive toys that will keep your dog entertained and moving, like the West Paw Design Zogoflex Jive, the Babble Ball Interactive Toy, and IncrediBubbles.
Exercise for Cats
Cats need exercise too, and while it's possible to train a cat to walk with a cat harness and leash, at-home interactive play is the best way to keep your cat's mind and body engaged and resilient. A 15-minutes session once or twice a day is ideal.
To help your cat get the most from these interactive toys, the key is to "BE the prey." Use your imagination, and have fun! If you're a mouse, run, jump and hide; if you're a bird, flutter and dive. Always let your cat catch the prey in the end, and follow up with a high-protein treat such as canned food. This not only exercises your cat's physical side, but also satisfies the mental/emotional "hunter" part—an important consideration in multi-cat homes to prevent aggressive behavior. It's also a terrific way to help chubby kitties lose weight, as well as to prevent boredom and the unwanted behaviors that sometimes go with it!
Importance of YOU in Playtime
When you start an exercise program for your pet, use the same common-sense precautions you would with any other new activity. Don't go hog wild all at once; your pet can get sore muscles and even cause damage to joints, because they don't know when to stop and will usually keep going as long as you can. Build up your pet's endurance gradually, and watch for signs that he's had enough - wanting to lie or sit down, or showing any degree of labored breathing.
You'll notice that all of these suggestions have one thing in common - you! Sure, you can leave toys out for your pets to play with, but their greatest joy is to play with you, so please make room for that quality time with your best buddy.